Drumstick Lipstick, Explained!
A decades-long mystery is solved.
Just in time for Bloomsday comes the solution to the only textual riddle in Cole Porter's "You're the Top" that I was unable to solve last week. Multiple readers, acting independently, managed to unearth two advertisements that appeared in the New York Times in 1934. One, which appeared on March 8, was for a new product called Drumstick face powder, which "has made new recruits to add to those who already enlist our bath powder and Drumstick lipstick." Another, which appeared on May 22, was for another new product, the Drumstick compact: "Its arrival is celebrated by smart women who will instantly invite it to join the Drumstick lipstick in their handbags." Drumstick lipstick, then, was a particular brand of lipstick. The manufacturer was Charbert, a French cosmetics firm.
Interestingly, both ads allude to a Broadway musical, but the musical isn't Anything Goes, which introduced "You're the Top" that same year. It's the Gershwin musical, Of Thee I Sing.
In addition to solving this mystery, readers offered a few additional insights about "You're the Top":
In my explication of
I footnoted "Zuider Zee," "Nathan panning," and "Bishop Manning," but assumed "broccoli" to be self-explanatory. But reader Andrew Steen chides me gently for failing to observe that broccoli would have been something of a novelty in 1934. The vegetable, of course, has been around for thousands of years, but in the United States it's been farmed commercially only since the 1920s, and the first advertising campaign on its behalf didn't occur until 1929—and even then, the ads were in Italian. So, in 1934, broccoli represented the culinary cutting edge, sort of like ramps do today.
In my explication of "next year’s taxes" as a superlative, I offered, tentatively, that next year's taxes were better than this year's taxes because one didn't have to pay them until next year. But reader R.J. Schoettle directs me to this chart from the Tax Foundation, which documents how President Roosevelt, that famous traitor to his class, raised marginal tax rates on higher incomes through the 1930s. In 1934, "next year's taxes" would have been the taxes you were to pay in 1935 on income earned in 1934. If your income was $90,000, then "this year's taxes" (on income earned in 1933) would be paid at a marginal rate of 51 percent, while "next year's taxes" (on income earned in 1934) would rise to a marginal rate of 54 percent. From the point of view of the payer, "next year's taxes" would not be a superlative. Who wants to pay more taxes? But as a sheer numerical phenomenon, "next year's taxes" would be impressively large compared to "this year's taxes."
In re "You're Mussolini, you're Mrs. Sweeney," the tasteless alternative lyric to "You're an O'Neill drama/ You're Whistler's mama," the Cole Porter estate informs me that it was penned by P.G. Wodehouse—who, with Guy Bolton, wrote an early draft of the Anything Goes script—for the London production. This provides additional evidence that Wodehouse, indisputably a comic genius, was pretty dim when it came to international politics (the primary evidence being his genial Berlin broadcasts while he was held prisoner by the Nazis). Having just last autumn read Robert McCrum's superb Wodehouse biography, I ought to have remembered this.
In my examination of
You're the top!
You're an Arrow collar,
You're the top!
You're a Coolidge dollar
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.